Last night John brought everyone up to date on the preposterous move by the White House to overrule a federal judge (and a battalion of experts who conducted the review) and block construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Aside from providing some great PR for Barack Obama with his army of environmentalist activists, there was little to no point in this maneuver. But there are a couple of other aspects to the story which deserve a quick look this weekend.
The biggest among these are the well documented lengths which the company constructing the pipeline – Dakota Access – went to in order to accommodate the tribes and ensure compliance with environmental requirements. Rather than just issuing a judgement tainted with political debris or a lack of serious investigation, the court found that the construction route wasn’t just safe… it was moved nearly 150 times entailing huge jumps in construction costs so that it would follow existing construction routes which were not being protested. And for the greater part of the path, the route runs alongside an existing pipeline and/or power line routes. All of them are what is described as “well trodden land” in terms of industrial development. We get this from the judge’s final ruling.
In North Dakota, for example, the cultural surveys found 149 potentially eligible sites, 91 of which had stone features. The pipeline workspace and route was modified to avoid all 91 of these stone features and all but 9 of the other potentially eligible sites. By the time the company finally settled on a construction path, then, the pipeline route had been modified 140 times in North Dakota alone to avoid potential cultural resources. Plans had also been put in place to mitigate any effects on the other 9 sites through coordination with the North Dakota SHPO.
The company also opted to build its new pipeline along well-trodden ground wherever feasible. See ECF No. 22-1 (Declaration of Joey Mahmoud), Around Lake Oahe, for example, the pipeline will track both the Northern Border Gas Pipeline, which was placed into service in 1982, and an existing overhead utility line. In fact, where it crosses Lake Oahe, DAPL is 100% adjacent to, and within 22 to 300 feet from, the existing pipeline. Dakota Access chose this route because these locations had “been disturbed in the past – both14 above and below ground level – making it a ‘brownfield crossing location.’” This made it less likely, then, that new ground disturbances would harm intact cultural or tribal features.
If you read the full ruling you will see the number of times that the tribe has either refuted studies which they themselves requested or simply failed to respond at all to questions raised about their objections in court. This wasn’t a search for answers and valid science, but legal maneuvering to simply shut down the project. And now, thanks to the White House, what was supposed to be a settled matter has multiple federal entities – including the Department of Justice, the Army and the Interior Department – dragged into the fray. The Army is claiming that a quick response will be forthcoming.
“The Army will move expeditiously to make this determination, as everyone involved — including the pipeline company and its workers — deserves a clear and timely resolution,” the agencies said in a statement. “In the interim, we request that the pipeline company voluntarily pause all construction activity within 20 miles east or west of Lake Oahe.”
We’ve heard this song and dance before. A “clear and timely resolution” when described by anyone in Washington is rarely either. This will probably turn into a waiting game designed to put enough pressure on Dakota Access to make the project no longer profitable and force them to simply walk away from the investment. In the meantime, don’t expect to hear much on cable news about the fact that this pipeline is running across existing pipelines and power lines, not Indian burial grounds.